Why All Love Iran
What's not to love? The landscapes here are wonderful, from high mountains to deep deserts where the soulful presence of the Asiatic cheetah still roams. There are the architecture and the magic of the bazaars. There's the utterly civilized appeal of taking tea in a teahouse overlooking the river in Esfahan or with nomads out in the Zagros Mountains. Or wandering the mud-brick alleyways of Yazd then venturing to a Zoroastrian fire temple on the cusp of the desert.
Yes, All love all of these things. But Iran's greatest gift is its people.
1-Meet the People
In any competition for the title of the world's friendliest people, Iranians would be definite finalists. It's the people that leave the most lasting impressions from any journey to Iran, their warmth and their hospitality, their willingness to set aside enmities between countries and welcome you with open arms and doors. Whoever you meet, you will regularly be asked what you think of Iran, told 'You are our guest' and brought tea and food. Meeting Iranians is, quite simply, the best experience in Iran.
2-Esfahan, Half of the World
There are moments in travel that will long stay with you, and your first sight of Isfahan's majestic Naqsh-e Jahan (Imam) Square is one of them. This square is home to arguably the most majestic collection of buildings in the Islamic world: the perfectly proportioned blue-tiled dome of the Masjed-e Shah, the supremely elegant Masjed-e Sheikh Lotfollah and the indulgent and lavishly decorated Ali Qapu Palace. Far from being a static architectural attraction, the square and the nearby tea houses overlooking the river throng with life.
Few places have adapted to their environment as well as the desert city of Yazd. It's a gem of winding lanes, blue-tiled domes, soaring minarets, bazaars, and courtyard homes topped by badgirs (wind towers) and watered by qanats (underground water channels). Several of these homes have been restored and converted into evocative traditional hotels. Many travelers declare Yazd to be their favorite city in Iran, and it's not difficult to see why combining as it does a whiff of magic on the cusp of the desert.
4-More than Kabab
Iranian food is one delicious Surprise after another. Once you've tried several varieties of kabab, Khoresht (stew), ash (soup) and flatbread, ask for fesenjan (chicken in walnut and pomegranate sauce) or anything with bademjan (eggplant), or try Gilan cuisine with its predominantly sour flavours. Then you can try the shirini (sweets)... As exquisite as so many Iranian flavors are, it's the buzz that surrounds eating, the primacy of food in so many social encounters that makes it truly one of life's great pleasures
5-Nomads of the Zagros
About two million Iranians from several different ethnic groups still live a nomadic existence, traveling with their goats in spring and autumn in search of pasture. Qashqa'i and Bakhtiyari nomads spend the summer months in the Zagros Mountains, before heading down to the coast for the winter. You can get a taste of nomad life on a day trip from Shiraz or stay with the Khamseh (and eat their delicious hand-made yogurt) in the hills above Bavanat.
The artistic harmony of the monumental staircases, imposing gateways, and exquisite reliefs leaves you in little doubt that in its prime, Persepolis was at the center of the known world. These days it's Iran's premier ancient city. Built by kings Darius and Xerxes as the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire, a visit to the World Heritage-listed ruins of the city also testifies to Alexander the Great's merciless destruction of that empire. Don't miss the monolithic tombs at nearby Naqsh-e Rostam
7-Skiing the Alborz Mountains
Thinking about Iran and skiing is hardly the first thing that springs to mind. But Iran has more than 20 ski fields and most of the action is conveniently concentrated around Tehran(Ski Slopes around Tehran). The Dizin and Shemshak resorts are the picks, with steep downhills and plenty of untracked powder to keep skiers of all levels interested. Chalets and ski passes are inexpensive compared with Western countries, and the slopes are relatively liberal, beloved as they are by Tehran's upper-middle class.
8- Choqa Zanbil, Susa & Shushtar
Even if you don't normally seek out ancient ruins, these three World Heritage sites will make you reconsider. The great bulk and fascinating backstory make the Choga Zanbil Ziggurat. which dates back a mere 34 centuries, one of the most impressive historical sites in a region full of them. Now excavated, some of the bricks look as if they came out of the kiln last week. Susa (Shush) is a fabulous ruin of a place with a castle, acropolis and palace remnants, while Shushtar impressively rounds things out.
9- Tehran Art Scene
The capital's excellent by museums and palaces provide great insights into Iran's past. However, to gain a handle on its present, don't miss the city's range of hip cafes and contemporary art galleries. These provide an entree into a side of modern Iranian life-creative, challenging and liberal that you seldom hear much about in the media. Even government-sponsored institutions such as the Iran Holy Defence Museum and Qasr Garden Museum make inventive use of contemporary art.
10- Mashhad's Haram-e Razavi
Iran is the Islamic Republic and while most travelers find Islam is not nearly as all-pervasive as they had expected, the Shiite faith remains an important part of Iranian life. It is at its most obvious in the passionate devotion seen at monuments such as the huge Haram-e Razavi in Mashhad. The main draw here is the Holy Shrine of Imam Reza, the only Shiite imam buried in Iran. The passion and warmth you'll encounter here lend a powerful sense of Islam as a force for good in the world.
11- Desert Oases
The welcome is rarely warmer than in the vast empty silence of Iran's two great deserts. Garmeh is the oasis village of your dreams, with a crumbling castle, swaying date palms and the sound of spring water. It's the sort of place you come for one night and stay four. Nearby Farahzad and tiny Toudeshk Cho, between Isfahan and Na'in, also offer memorable desert-style family homestays: think beds on the floor, basic bathrooms, fresh, delicious home-cooked food, and endless horizons just outside your door.
12- Bazaar Shopping
In the age of the superstore, most Iranians rely on these mazes of covered lanes, madrasahs and caravanserais for much of their shopping. Tehran, Esfahan, Shiraz, Kerman and Kashan all have atmosphere bazaars where you can browse beneath domed ceilings, dodge motorcycles and stop in teahouses for a brew. But perhaps the greatest is the World Heritage-listed Tabriz Bazaar, the world's largest covered bazaar and once among the most important trading centres on the Silk Road.
13-Scenic Western Iran
With the slowdown in overland travel a few make it out west, but that's just the way we like it. Track down Unesco World Heritage-listed Armenian churches Follow the route through Howraman on your way between Marivan and Paveh. Explore the Aras Valley or spend time getting to know the Kurds around Howraman, the Azeris in the northwest, the Gilan on the Caspian Coast, the Arabs of Khuzestan. Put them together and Western Iran is worth building your entire trip around.
14- Hiking in the Alamut Valley
The fabled Alamut Valley offers a tempting invitation to hike, explore and reflect among the fabled Castles of the Assassins, Nestled on widely spread rocky knolls and pinnacles lie the shattered remnants of more than 50 fortresses that were once home to the medieval world's most feared religious cult. Choose a day hike from Qazvin or more extensive wanderings from Gazor Khan - a full trans-Alborz crossing to the Caspian hinterland. Either way, this is some of the most rewarding hiking to be found in the Middle East.
15- The Poets of Shiraz
Iranians like to say that even in the poorest home you'll find two books: a Quran and the poetry of Hafez. It's appropriate for a country whose most celebrated sons are poets, and where almost every person can quote their favorite millennium-old man of words. In Shiraz. the city of nightingales and gardens, the tombs of Hafez and Sa'di draw pilgrims from around the country. Join them as they linger over tea, reciting the works of their heroes.
16- Zoroastrian Fire Temples
Iran may be an Islamic Republic, but its Zoroastrian sites have an otherworldly charm. Chak Chak. out in a deliciously remote location in the Yazd hinterland, has a superb fire temple with a stunning brass door, even more, stunning views and an air of ritual, ancient and deep. This was the Zoroastrian heartland and remains its most significant pilgrimage site. It's difficult to come here and not imagine yourself in the days before Islam arrived in Iran. There are other fire temples in Kerman and Yazd.